We Don’t Live Here Anymore

Posted on August 18, 2004 at 10:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Extremely strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: A lot of drinking and smoking, characters get intoxicated
Violence/ Scariness: Tense emotional confrontations and betrayal
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

Situated somewhere between John Updike and “Knott’s Landing,” this is a story of suburban angst and adultery, with meaningful glances, inexpressible longing, fumbled groping, and a lot of hangovers.

Two couples’ lives overlap so completely that the boundaries between them are beginning to dissolve. Jack (Mark Ruffalo) gets angry at Terry (Laura Dern) for being a poor housekeeper and drinking too much. He is having an affair with Edith (Naomi Watts), who is married to his colleague and best friend Hank (Peter Krause). We first see them at a casual, slightly boozy evening together. Jack and Edith go out to get more beer, but the real reason is some passionate kisses and a chance to make plans to meet the next day.

It is easy to feel the pull of Edith’s appeal. She has neat platinum hair and glowing porcelain skin. Her home is orderly and comfortable and brimming with light. She likes Jack a lot and never nags him about money or not paying enough attention to her. And what they have feels new and fresh to both of them. Maybe, too, there is some appeal is taking something from his close friend Hank, who has more money, a nicer house, more ambition, and, with his poem accepted by the New Yorker, more success.

Hank wants everyone to feel loved, even Edith. And if Jack loves her, it takes pressure off of him. Jack wants to feel love, and thinks he may love Edith. Terry loves Jack and wants him to love her in spite of her failings, maybe because of them. And Jack feels so guilty about not loving her the way she wants (and deserves) that he hopes she will stray so that he can feel justified.

Some will find this all hideously self-involved, but many will find it heart-breakingly poignant and insightful in that Tolstoy-esque “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” category. The direction is exceptionally thoughtful and rich with detail. The acting is superb. But for me it all became too in love with itself. Color schemes that made Edith look moonbeamy by keeping her in white and close calls with an onrushing train and children standing too close to the edge of a cliff felt heavy and suffocating instead of rich and transcendent. Yet it draws a lot of power not just from the intense intelligence behind it at every level but from the mirror quality any ambitious story about marriage offers its audience by the simple virtue of locating itself in the core of human hope and doubt. Forget about sharks and aliens. The characters in this movie may not live here anymore, but this is exactly where the rest of us live and where we fight every day to keep living.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely mature material, with very explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery, nudity, very strong language, drinking (to excess), and smoking. There are tense emotional condfrontations that may be upsetting to some viewers.

Families who see this movie should talk about why the characters find it so difficult to feel love and feel loved.

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate The Ice Storm, The Safety of Objects, and sex, lies, and videotape.

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Head in the Clouds

Posted on August 18, 2004 at 6:15 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking, characters get drunk
Violence/ Scariness: Battle violence, sexual violence, car crash
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

This is a soapy saga of love, war, and many, many hairstyles.

The hair signifies the passage of time in the story of a love triangle that lasts through the turbulent decades of Europe in from the roaring 20’s through World War II.

Charlize Theron plays Gilda, a glamorous heiress who lives for pleasure. Guy (Stuart Townsend), a shy and serious Cambridge student, is dazzled by her beauty, honesty, and complete freedom from any conventional notions about how to behave. She is drawn to him, but perhaps because of his seriousness, she does not let herself get too close to him. They have brief, passionate encounters, and then she disappears to wherever the parties are. Sometimes they spar over determinism vs. free will (“You think I was being spontaneous but I was always going to do that, just like I was always going to win this argument!”) and about the meaning of life. She thinks that the misery and injustice all around them is all the more reason to enjoy everything they can, before it catches up with them. He believes that it is his obligation to fight for freedom.

Guy leaves his teaching job in England to live in Paris with Gilda, living a bohemian life as a photographer. She has taken in a Spanish dancer named Mia (Penelope Cruz), who is in Paris to get training as a nurse, so she can return to help fight the fascists. The sweep of passion and the sweep of history bring the three together and separate them, as Guy and Mia go off to fight in the Spanish Civil War and Guy returns to find Gilda living with one of the Nazi officers overseeing the occupation of Paris.

Even with all of that passion and sweep and the star power of its actors, the movie feels as pre-determined as its main character’s fatalistic outlook. The scenes are filled with themes and historical events of great power, and yet they never pulse with life. Gilda is a fantasy madonna/whore figure, and the characters’ petty problems and debates, intended to illuminate what is going on around them, are a distraction instead.

Parents should know that the movie has extremely explicit sexual references and situations, including orgies, promiscuity, sadism, and same-sex relationships. Characters drink, smoke, and use very strong language. The movie has battle and other wartime violence, torture, and sexual violence. Characters are injured and killed.

Families who see this movie should talk about their own views on determinism vs. free will and how we decide when to become involved in others’ fights for freedom.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Charlotte Gray. They should also see some wartime classics like Casablanca and To Have and Have Not.

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Silver City

Posted on August 15, 2004 at 12:51 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, dead body, guns, characters killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

A movie about a dim, rich, conservative political candidate named “Pilager” (pronounced “pillager”) who finds a corpse on the end of his fishing line when he is makng a commercial is not going for subtlety. Did I mention that the family fortune started with manure? Do I need to tell you about the dead fish in the lake?

After “Hail to the Chief”-backed opening credits, we see a legend across the screen, “Richard Plager cares about Colorado.” He is fillming a political ad, and trying to get through a script that has him saying, “I’ve always turned to nature to sort things out in my mind, make sense of the world.” Someone points out that his lure is not going to attract any fish, and Pilager’s campaign manager (Richard Dreyfuss) responds, “We’re trying to attract voters.”

But there is something on the end of his line. It’s a dead body. Pilager and the camera crew are whisked away to another scenic location to finish the ad. And Hank is left to figure out what is going on and clean up the mess.

He hires investigator Danny O’Brian (Danny Houston) to see if one of Pilager’s three most likely enemies had something to do with the body. Danny was once a reporter who lost his job when a big expose turned out to be a set-up. Danny’s investigation takes him to a mine safety expert whose career was destroyed by Pilager (Ralph Waite of television’s “The Waltons”), illegal immigrant workers, left-wing reporters who keep databases of the web of connections between politicians and wealthy executives, and Pilager’s bitter and angry sister, a woman who is overly fond of marijuana and archery, and Danny’s own ex-girlfriend (Maria Bello), a reporter now engaged to a lobbyist.

This is certainly lesser Sayles, shrill, cluttered, even a little silly in its heavy-handedness. But it is still watchable, with beautifully understated performances. If he fails in its insights on the political side, he still knows how to create a dozen characters we want to spend time with with dialogue it is a pleasure to hear.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of mature material, including explicit sexual references and situations, very strong language, and violence. Characters are in peril and some are badly injured or killed. Characters drink and smoke cigarettes and marijuana. While some characters exhibit racism, a strength of the movie is the loyal and respectful relationships between people of different races and its own frank portrayal of issues of race and class.

Families who see this movie should talk about how accurately it portrays political issues relating to immigration, development, and the role of lobbyists. They should also talk about the ways that characters in the movie try to shape the way that information reaches politicians, the media, and the public.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other Sayles movies, including Return of the Seacaucus Seven and Eight Men Out.

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Code 46

Posted on August 15, 2004 at 11:50 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink, smoke, and take drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Tense and scary scenes
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

The world director Michael Winterbottom creates is much more interesting then the story or the characters.

The story is set in a future when reproductive technology is so advanced and widespread that the odds are good the person who looks very attractive across a crowded room may be a clone of one of your parents or share more than half of your DNA through various test tube tricks. A law called Code 46 prohibits procreation unless the parents can establish that they are not genetically linked.

The culture has become as homogenized as the DNA. All cities have the same sort of pan-global sameness. Everyone speaks a hybrid English peppered with bits of other languages, including Spanish and Hindi. Travel is very restricted, requiring a post-modern version of Casablanca’s letters of transit called “papelles.”

William (Tim Robbins) has papelles because he is travelling on official business. He is an investigator who uses an “empathy virus” to enhance his natural intuition and talent for figuring out who is telling the truth. He knows which employee has stolen papelles, but he turns in someone else instead. Perhaps it is the extra helping of empathy that reveals Maria (Samantha Morton) as the culprit but also shows him qualities that draw him to her.

They have an affair, and she becomes pregnant. But it is a Code 46 violation, so she must be taken away for an abortion and memory erasure. He finds her again, but she has no recollection of him. Her memory has been reprogrammed so that she thinks she has been away for a finger replacement. William takes her away for what could be a moment of a kind of freedom for both of them, but there are so many obstacles, legal, practical, chemical, cultural, that it may not be possible.

It’s what goes on in the edges of the frame that matters here. The atmosphere of the film is rich and meaningful while the story is frustratingly simple and superficial, almost an afterthought. The connection between William and Maria that is supposed to be so powerful barely registers. There is no chemistry at all between Robbins and Morton, who both appear uncomfortable and awkward. The tantalizing glimpses of a fully-envisioned sense of the future prove to be disappointing indicators of what the movie could have been.

Parents should know that the movie has very explicit sexual references and situations, including bondage. Characters drink, smoke, use drugs, and use strong language. There are tense scenes of peril and some minor violence.

Families who see this movie should talk about what in today’s society inspired this idea of the future.

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate 1984.

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Mean Creek

Posted on August 15, 2004 at 9:01 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Extremely strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug use by teens and kids
Violence/ Scariness: Tense scenes, injuries and death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

When Sam (Rory Culkin) is beat up by a school bully, his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) and his friend Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) plot revenge. They will invite the bully (Josh Peck as George) on a boating trip, telling him it’s a birthday party for Sam, and then play a cruel trick on him.

On the water, things seem different. George seems vulnerable, almost childishly happy to be included. He explains that maybe his learning disability makes him “a superior being, the future of the race” and uses his video camera to record everything he sees. His agression seems clumsy rather than hostile.

Sam’s friend Milly (Carly Shroeder), who knew nothing about the purpose of the trip, makes him promise that they won’t try to hurt George. Sam, who has begun to feel sorry for George, agrees, and Rocky reluctantly tells Marty to call off the prank. But Marty has been looking forward to this and it feels like one too many compromises when he wants something to make him feel powerful. Sitting in the boat, far from civilization, they begin a game of Truth or Dare. And then things get tragically out of control.

The movie never makes it all the way from idea to story, but the talented young performers give their characters subtlety and depth far in excess of the script. The screenplay emphasizes the obvious and the characters are too obviously created to fit into neat categories across the range of perspectives. The car they drive to the river has an “honor student” bumper sticker on it. The bully pecking order from Marty’s older brother down to Sam is as carefully calibrated as a slide rule. After-school-special level dialogue hangs heavily in the air after it is spoken.

But each member of the cast is remarkable, utterly genuine, transcending the limits of the screenplay, benefiting from sensitive direction. Peck bravely lets us share the kids’ mixture of impatience and pity toward George. Culkin provides another touchingly open and brave performance. Mechlowicz is exceptionally impressive, with real leading man potential (more than making up for appearing in the awful Eurotrip). The cinematography is superb, showing us the contrast between the placid surroundings and the explosive emotions. But it is the cast that makes this trip up the creek worthwhile.

Parents should know that the movie includes extremely strong language and very explicit sexual references, including sexual epithets. A character is called “faggot” and insulted because his fathers are gay. Middle schoolers are challenged to French kiss and others are dared to take off their clothes. There is a bare tush and implied nudity. Characters use a gun, cut their skin with a knife, and a character is beaten and another is killed. Teens and younger kids drink, smoke, and use drugs, and one who declines is insulted and pressured. The movie’s themes include vigilante justice and there is a painful reference to suicide.

Families who see this movie should talk about how and why the characters reacted differently to the situations they faced. What is the right way to deal with a bully? Why do the kids have so little faith in the adult world to help them solve their problems? Be sure to notice all of the different tactics characters use to get others to do what they want — questioning everything from their loyalty and integrity to their manhood. They should also talk about the effect that a secret has on a group and the way it makes the power relationships shift. Instead of bringing them together, it pulls them apart. What do we learn from the cameras in the movie, including George’s camera and the one in the police station?

Families who appreciate this movie should also see The River’s Edge, Tex, Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, and Lord of the Flies.

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